58ºF

Fracking ban could run into roadblocks

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A proposal backed by environmentalists to ban fracking in Florida eased through a Senate committee Monday.

But the effort to impose a ban on the controversial oil- and gas-drilling process may be in trouble already, with the start of the 2020 legislative session still more than two months away.

The proposal (SB 200), approved unanimously by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, would ban hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking. But it also would ban a process known as matrix acidization, which uses many of the same chemicals as in hydraulic fracturing but dissolves rocks with acid instead of fracturing them with pressurized liquid.

Environmentalists argue that a ban on matrix acidization is necessary, but Republican lawmakers have balked at the idea.

A separate proposal to ban fracking without addressing matrix acidization may not even return in the Senate for the 2020 session, which begins Jan. 14. Such a proposal went further during the 2019 session than a bill that also addressed matrix acidization, but neither passed.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, said he hasn't seen enough change to warrant refiling the bill that would only address hydraulic fracturing.

"Last session I feel like what we did made sense," Albritton said before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee meeting. "But I don't sense there's traction enough to move the ball. We still have the same members. We still have the same process."

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his opposition to hydraulic fracturing shortly after his inauguration in January, but leaders in the Republican-dominated Legislature didn't warm to the ban.

The measure that was advanced Monday was sponsored by Environment and Natural Resources Chairman Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee.

Florida doesn't currently have fracking. But Montford said the bill is intended to protect Florida's future

"I think Florida is the last state that we should be even considering fracking," Montford said. "I don't think we need to wait until there is a catastrophe and then say, ‘If we had done something else.' "

Critics of fracking argue the process could harm the state's water supply.

"Damage to the environment is damage to the economy," said Kim Ross, executive director of Rethink Energy Florida.

Opponents of fracking also argue that banning fracking without targeting matrix acidization would create a loophole for oil companies.

Fracking supporters say the drilling technique increases production and holds down energy costs.

David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, said natural gas produced through fracking outside Florida has helped the nation flourish.

"We oppose this bill, as you know," Mica told the committee. "But I want to caution you to think a little more about trying to do things that reverse that trend that we've had, that we've made. Certainly, we want to continue the quest for renewables and alternatives, but we also want to continue to develop America's natural resources as well."

Montford proposed a similar measure in the 2019 session. The measure cleared his committee and failed to advance further. A House version to ban fracking without addressing matrix acidization also did not make it through all its assigned committees.